Chapter VI

Nurse and Patient

In Lucknow, on the day after the outbreak, all was quiet. On the evening of that day, 31st May, Sir Henry Lawrence moved his headquarters from the cantonments into the Residency. The enthusiasm was tremendous. When he appeared with his staff, a perfect storm of acclamation burst forth. Loud “hurrahs” and shouts of “Long life to Sir Henry” continued until he had passed out of sight.

Then commenced preparations for defence. Though the rebels had for a time disappeared, it was known that they were but gathering their forces. From all quarters came mutinous sepoys to swell their numbers. To conquer the capital city of Oudh was their ambition. To secure this conquest they were prepared to make any sacrifice.

Sir Henry was on the alert. He did not wait to be attacked. The Residency was crowded with women and children. Every house and outbuildings were occupied. Preparations for defence were continued. Thousands of coolies were employed at the batteries, stockades and trenches. The treasure and ammunition​—​of which, fortunately, there was a large supply​—​were buried, and as many guns as could be collected were brought together.

Never was there such a busy, motley crowd! Soldiers​—​English, Irish and Scotch​—​sepoys, prisoners in irons, men and women of all ranks, children​—​black and white, of all ages​—​hundreds of servants,respectable natives arriving in their carriages, coolies carrying weights, heavy cannons, field pieces, carts, elephants, camels, bullocks and horses, were continually passing between the Mutcheebhawun and the Residency. Shouting and gesticulating, bustle and noise, and occasionally a little strong language, were kept up from morning till night. The engineers were blowing up buildings and endeavouring to level as many houses as possible. The din was deafening and incessant Sir Henry was indefatigable, and when he slept was a mystery to all.

Nine days had passed since the outbreak, and the city, apparently, was quiet. But those who, like Sir Henry Lawrence, were capable of penetrating below the surface, and knew what Oriental plotting meant, were not deceived by this apparent calm.

Of all the hard workers in the Residency and the Mutcheebhawun in those anxious days while awaiting the attack, which all knew must come before many days were over, Jack Hawke was the hardest. He did not seem to know what fatigue was. Nothing came amiss to him, from searching for hidden guns in the various suspected houses in the city, to helping to carry in bags of flour to the stores.

He avoided that portion of the Residency which had been assigned to the ladies. Those who knew the scandal attached to his name were not surprised.

“A meeting between Captain Hawke and Mrs Ross would be exceedingly embarrassing for both, and, of course, more embarrassing for him than for her,” said one lady. “I don’t wonder at his keeping away.”

“Embarrassing or not,” said Mrs Hudson, a blunt Yorkshirewoman, the wife of a colonel in the 13th Native Infantry, “they’ll have to meet if we’re shut up in these walls. Embarrassments won’t go for much when fighting’s to be done; and in such a case I think I know who I’d rather have with me. It wouldn’t be Mrs Ross. I mistrust that woman.”

“Aren’t you a little uncharitable, Mrs Hudson?” asked Jean. She, with half-a-dozen more ladies, were busy making lint.

“Oh, maybe: but I can’t help airing my opinions. I always believe in speaking my mind. Jack Hawke’s a big, blundering fool. I’ve told him so more than once in the old days; but I don’t think he’s bad at heart. He hasn’t got the brains to be irreclaimably wicked.”

“But don’t you think weakness is sometimes as bad as downright wickedness? It does as much harm, I’m sure,” put in an elderly lady of somewhat grim aspect​—​Mrs Bartley, the widow of a commissioner, and a Wesleyan Methodist, with all the conscientious views peculiar to that religious body. “Captain Hawke set a shocking example to all the young men​—​drinking, gambling and betting.”

“Oh, he was much about the same as the rest. I never could see that the Company’s officers required any example. When they come out to India they take naturally to pale ale and brandy pawnees. The first duty of an Anglo-Indian, whether he’s in the Army or the Civil Service, is to ruin his liver as speedily as possible. Jack Hawke arrived in Calcutta a mere boy, and he was unlucky in having too much money, and in falling in with a fast set. The D’Arcy girls would ruin any young man​—​they ruined Jack Hawke.”

Mrs Bartley did not dispute this assertion. Indeed her opinion of the “D’Arcy girls” was even more severe than that of Mrs Hudson; but she adhered to her belief that Hawke was a most disreputable, unprincipled, worldly-minded young man. Another lady thought he was “horrid,” and a third considered it was a great pity that he had come back to Lucknow.

The talked jarred upon Jean, whose impulses were generous and forgiving. Hawke interested her. She knew nothing about his drinking habits, his gambling, his betting. The sinister insinuations of Mrs Ross had not resulted in prejudicing her against him, if, indeed, that was Mrs Ross’s object. Jean knew he was a brave man​—​her father and Dr Lennard had said so​—​and bravery covered a multitude of sins.

“It’s unjust,” thought the girl indignantly, “to look only on the one side of anybody’s character, and that side the worst.”

Suddenly the conversation veered round to the “D’Arcy girls,” and some of the scandalised elderly ladies had a good deal to say concerning their flirtations and their “fast” ways generally.

“What became of them?” asked a lady, who had not been in India long.

“One of them​—​Agnes​—​married a Mr Holcombe, and she went home to England with her husband. It was over her there was such a scandal with Captain Hawke. It drove him away.”

“And the other?”

“Edith D’Arcy? Why, she’s Mrs Ross, of course. Didn’t you know that?”

Jean started. She had not the least idea that one of the D’Arcy girls, remembered for their beauty as for their recklessness, was now Mrs Ross. It seemed inconceivable that this woman, with the worn, almost haggard face, sallow complexion and bitter tongue, could have been the fascinating girl about whom half the men at the station raved. But beauty ripens quickly in India, and it might be that Mrs Ross, who could not be yet thirty, had burned the candle of life too rapidly. Her features were certainly exquisitely regular, and her eyes remarkably fine; while her voice, soft, low and musical, was capable of infinite modulation. But the expression? At times it was one of settled melancholy, at others it seemed to show that the fever of unrest was burning within. She had been a widow scarcely a twelvemonth when the mutiny broke out, and to Jean the faded look on the woman’s face was amply accounted for.

According to Mrs Hudson, the D’Arcy girls had been the ruin of Hawke. What did this mean?

Well, it was no affair of hers, and tired of the scandalmongering, and with fingers stiff and sore with work, Jean rose from her seat, walked to the window, and looked out on the busy scene below.

A long procession of natives carrying burdens on their heads were coming in through the Baillie Guard Gate.

They were provision bearers. Then followed a team of bullocks, dragging a heavy gun, the drivers urging them on with shrill cries and hoarse maledictions. They were under the charge of three or four European officers.

Suddenly she saw one of the latter apparently trip over a package a careless native had let fall, and come heavily to the ground. She could not see precisely what had happened, for the bullocks swerved round. All she knew was that the man’s brother officers had rushed to help him.

At that moment she was called away from the window. The chief of the medical staff, Dr Macpherson, had entered the room, and was addressing the ladies generally.

He was a short, burly, bluff man of about fifty, a splendid surgeon, and despite his roughness, with the kindest heart in the world for the genuine sufferer.

“Now, leedies,” said he, with just the slightest flavour of Northern accent, “I want to have a few words with ye all. We’ve got serious work maybe before us, and we mustn’t be taken by surprise. We’ll have need of plenty of nurses, so the sooner some of ye learn the preliminaries​—​bandaging and what not​—​the better. Who’ll volunteer?”

“If I can be of any use, doctor?” began Jean.

“Of use, lassie. Why, I’ll make a first-rate nurse of ye in less than no time. That’s one. Who’s next? Don’t be in too much of a hurry to speak. Mrs Hudson, I can reckon on you, I know.”

Yes, Mrs Hudson was quite willing, and so were half-a-dozen more.

Quite proud of his success, the doctor led the way to the banqueting hall, which had been turned into a hospital. A good many sick had been brought into the Residency when shelter was first sought there, and some half-a-score of wounded, the result of the outbreak of the 30th, had been added since.

Dr Macpherson was just beginning a little lecture when the tramp of feet was heard outside, mixed with a bumping sound, the meaning of which the surgeon knew full well. It was the arrival of a patient borne on a litter.

An orderly opened the door, and Dr Macpherson went hastily forward.

“Case of sunstroke, sir,” said the young officer who accompanied the party, “and an accident besides. Gun carriage wheel went over his arm, but I don’t think it’s broken. It was on the loose sand, luckily.”

“Ay, ay. Bring him this way. Put him on this bed. Ye’re just in time, leedies, to have a vera useful preliminary lesson. Ye’ll have many sunstroke cases to look after, and it’s as well ye should know as soon as possible how to deal with them.”

The man was lifted gently on to the bed, and the women, after a little hesitation, went forward.

Jean was in advance, but the man’s face was turned from her. Mrs Hudson, who was on the other side, exclaimed:

“Why, it’s poor Jack Hawke!”

The doctor’s eyes fell upon Jean, and he told her to come nearer, so that she might watch what he did.

“This isn’t a vera serious case, and I’m glad of it. We can’t afford to lose so fine a lad.”

Hawke was a stranger to the surgeon, who had not been long in Lucknow.

The doctor administered restoratives, and eventually Hawke opened his eyes; but he had only half regained consciousness. He stared vacantly round.

“A couple of days’ rest and he’ll be all right. The arm will be much longer in getting well. It’s badly sprained and bruised. There’ll be plenty of lotioning and cold-water bandaging for you, Miss Atherton. He shall be your first patient, and I put him under your care.”

“Dr Macpherson,” hurriedly exclaimed Mrs Bartley, “just one word.”

There was a look of concern on Mrs Bartley’s face, as though she had something very important to say. The good-natured doctor turned aside. She said something to him in a whisper.

“Pooh! Nonsense! Don’t be ridiculous, woman!” Dr Macpherson was heard to say quite sharply. Whereat Mrs Bartley tossed her head, sniffed, and put on a resigned, deprecatory attitude, as much as to say, “Well, I’ve done my duty. For whatever happens, please remember I’m not responsible.”

As a matter of fact, she had whispered to the surgeon, that, in her opinion, a young and handsome girl ought not to be put to nurse a good-looking dare-devil of a fellow like Jack Hawke.

Macpherson turned back rather irritably to the patient. He hated any interference with his orders, and nothing put him out so much. Nevertheless, he cast a shrewd glance at both Jean and Hawke.

“He’s a braw lad, and she’s a bonnie lassie,” he muttered to himself, “but she’s no fule. Plenty of decision in that handsome face of hers, though, maybe, she hasn’t yet been worried about deciding anything more important than the shape of a bonnet or the fit of a frock. He’ll be out of this place in two days, or three at the most.”

And so it came to pass that Jean’s first experience of nursing was to keep Jack Hawke’s left arm well supplied with wet bandages. The duty was not a very arduous one, and only entailed visits to the hospital at stated times.

It would be untrue to say that Jean did not feel an interest in her patient. His tawny hair was cut close to his head by order of the doctor, and the mass of rings which formerly came rather low down in front, no longer hid his broad rather than high forehead.

He lay very quiet all that day, and seemed quite content to watch Jean’s soft white fingers deftly applying the cool white bandages. Not a word escaped his lips. The effect of the sunstroke seemed to partake of the nature of semi-paralysis, and for some hours he remained in a kind of lethargy, conscious of what was going on, and quite aware of the ministrations of his nurse and accepting everything in a dreamy, helpless condition.

The coolness of the night air worked wonders, and about an hour before midnight he fell into a deep sleep. At five o’clock he awoke. The hospital orderly happened to be near him.

He cast a quick glance round, and seemed as if he were making a strong effort to pull himself together.

“Orderly,” said he, abruptly, “what are the arrangements here? Will the same nurse​—​lady, I mean, attend me to-day?”

“I don’t know, sir. I suppose so.”

Hawke was silent for a moment, and then said:

“Can you shave?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Then just take off this stubble. You’ll find a rupee in the pocket of that waistcoat. I shall look a little less like a scarecrow with my chin a bit cleaner,” he muttered to himself.

The orderly was only too glad to earn the rupee, and when his beard of a week’s growth was removed, Hawke looked quite a gentleman. He insisted on rising in spite of the orderly’s arguments that he would be much better in bed. “A fellow looks like a molly-coddle,” was his rejoinder. “Besides I feel as fit as a fiddle, save this confounded arm of mine.”

“You don’t look it, sir. Your eyes are queer.”

“So would yours be if you’d been working for three days in the blazing sun. I’m a little giddy about the nut, but that’ll pass off in a few hours. Can you give me a brandy pawnee?”

“Not without the doctor’s orders.”

“Hang the doctor! Well, what time did you say my lady attendant was expected?”

“About seven, sir, and it’s now six. If you like I could change these bandages for you. They’re very dry.”

“Let them alone, will you?” said Hawke fiercely.

He dressed himself with the assistance of the orderly, and awaited Jean’s coming, his eyes constantly wandering to the clock on the wall, as though time didn’t move quickly enough for him.

At last she appeared, and his face brightened.

“Are you better?” said she.

“Yes,” he said slowly, “thanks to you. You’ve been very kind.”

“Oh, it’s nothing,” she answered lightly, and at the same time a little nervously. The strange light in his ardent eyes was something she was not used to. “It’s only the duty of the women to help in the hospital work. Unhappily, we can do no more.”

“It’s everything. But some of the men here are not worth the trouble.”

“Why do you say that?”

She was taking off the bandages and she felt him wince. His arm was terribly bruised and battered and the skin was broken.

“Ah, I hurt you. I’m so sorry. It’s my awkwardness, but I hope to improve.”

“I don’t mind being experimented upon by you, Miss Atherton,” said he; “if you become proficient through practising on my arm, it’ll show, anyhow, that I’m not altogether good for nothing.”

Again he looked at her with that fiery glance. She felt a little embarrassed; perhaps he noticed it, for he was silent while she replaced the dry bandages with wet ones.

“And now, I suppose, you’ll go and make some other lucky beggar feel he’s had a glimpse of heaven,” said he huskily.

“I’m glad the cool wet rags give you so much relief,” said she, wilfully misunderstanding him.

“Hang the rags! I beg your pardon, Miss Atherton, When I spoke of heaven just now I didn’t refer to this arm of mine.”

“I know you did not. But you musn’t say such things, please.”

“When are you coming again?” he anxiously asked.

“Dr Macpherson said every three hours the bandages were to be changed.”

“They’ll be stiff and dry long before then. Mac doesn’t know what this fiendish climate can do. Two hours​—​say you’ll come in two hours?”

“Very well,” she interposed hastily, “I’ll return in two hours’ time.”

He gave her a grateful look, and she glided away.